Archive for May 2005

Movie diaries 5

May 9, 2005

This is somewhat out of order, seeing as it skips forward weeks in the narrative, but I need to write about it now. It’s going to read like fiction, and if you don’t believe in this sort of thing then it will be.

Not to me, though. Six years ago, this would not have been a problem. Six years ago, I wasn’t a dad. This is hard stuff for someone raised a Christian, though I’ve grown out of most of the closed-mindedness that blinds so many of our religion to what I experienced.

Our shoot took us to a graveyard outside of Excelsior Springs. The weather forecast was for partly cloudy, 80° weather, with a 40% chance of thunderstorms: my kind of weather. I threw on a pair of cargo shorts and a sleeveless T, hopped in the car and set out.

What we actually got was 60 degrees, wind, and raining all damn day. I survived the weather largely thanks to the good hearts of and Baer, the former who lent me his jacket when they weren’t shooting, and the latter who dug a sweatshirt out of his car when I had to relinquish the jacket. But that’s not truly what the story is about.

We’re out in the country, in the graveyard surrounding a little white church about fifteen minutes from anywhere. We drove out with the cameraman in the car recording us as we talked, hitting the salient plot points and providing exposition for the scenes to come. Arriving at the graveyard the AD called cut (he and I were curled up in the back, him to direct, me to provide off-camera dialog) and we piled out. Our scenario took us to the back of the graveyard, with the director and I staying behind the cameraman and sound-guy. I watched the stones, thankfully placed in ordered rows, so I wouldn’t trip, noticing a small concrete lamb in the grass. Following roughly parallel to the cameraman, I stepped over it.

She was five or six years old when she died. Her death was not peaceful or sudden, and I believe she died alone. Possibly she died of some illness that wasted her away, made the people around her loathe to be close, I don’t know. What I do know is that she recognized me for what I was, and made a grab for my attention.

It was like stepping over a high-voltage power line, a vibration that coursed down my spine out to my extremeties and back and settled somewhere in my heart, and I immediately turned and started back the way I’d come. At that moment, all I wanted was to find a place to curl into a ball and cry like I haven’t cried in years. No opportunity, of course, the director is a non-believer, the AD is an insufferably juvenile prick as well as a non-believer. Instead I strode past Kate, said something lame like, “This is a damn busy place. I need to get out of here…” and tried to refocus on my job.

When I got home, somewhere around 9:45 and six hours after the event, I knelt by my daughter’s bed, laid my head on the arms I’d crossed on her quilt as a man will do when he prays, and listened to her breathe. I was comforted by the sound, as I always am. I meditated, going back in my mind to the cemetery, trying to interpret what I’d felt, to try to glean some meaning from it.

I got the image of a little brunette, thin, in black shoes and a light colored dress, dove colored, maybe, or light blue. She stood by the lamb with her arms out, and as I picked her up in my mind’s Eye I began to cry, violently. I shuddered and tried to regain control, and didn’t until my own daughter stirred and rolled over. She didn’t wake, and I’m grateful for that.

I may go back, to try and find the cemetery and the grave and the little girl again and tell her in my best Daddy Voice that it’s okay to embrace What’s waiting for her. I don’t know if I’ll be able to without help, but I may not be able not to.


Movie diaries 4

May 4, 2005

The Other Oirish Witch

The hardest thing for an actor to do is to work with someone who s/he doesn’t trust, especially in a situation where you’re making things up as you go along. You need to know that your fellow actors aren’t going to set you up and then leave you dangling for the crows to feast upon. The example we were taught at ren fest was when another performer comes to you and says “Come quickly, the Queen has requested our presence,” you don’t respond “No, she didn’t,” because you’ve just cut the legs out from under the other performer. It was called “Yes, and..?” and served to keep the flow going.

No matter what, you need to know whatever you toss out will be dealt with and moved forward, and that no one in the group will introduce a bit of action or dialog that the others can’t work with.

As it says in the Scriptures: Verily I say unto thee, woe be unto the actor who abandons his people or shows himself unworthy, for he shall wander in the wilderness, and the others shall take up swords against him.

Or her. Something like that. Anyway, Oirish Witch Two, W2 we’ll call her for brevity, shot herself – figuratively speaking – the first night we went out as characters. We’d gathered at The Westport Flea Market for dinner, in character, or what we had for characters at the time as it was still early in the game. Kate was there, so was Murphy, Gunslinger, Scholar, Oirish Witches One and Two, a couple of admins and a tech guy with a camera and microphone to take it all down.

We went around the table, socializing as people are wont to do when there’s food and drink, and gunslinger chimed in with the question, “How long have you been with the organization and how were you recruited?”

(The Organization is how we referred to the agency that all our characters work for. Think Men in Black, without the funding or cool suits.)

So, one by one, we introduced our characters. Kate, the amnesiac, recruited by Bill after an all-night bender with some serious drugs and a couple of violent felons. Doug, the scholar, oldest member of the group. Bill, the audio tech. JD, our gunslinger the one with the most experience in the field. Murphy, the retired detective recruited out of retirement a year before, cynical and deep in his heart pissed as hell. While we all have a basic idea of what we are and where we’re coming from, we’re pretty much making it up as we go. We can do that.

We get to Oirish Witch 1 (remember her? Margaret Hamilton/Billie Burke/et al). Oh, I dunno, she says. Haven’t spent much time on it. The thought passes between me, Murphy, and Kate: okay, you’re done.

All eyes turn to W2 (except W1, who is holding forth on some subject no one is listening to). And how ’bout you, darlin, says JD. How long have you been with the organization?

Silence. You can see the wheels turning. Hear them, too, and the sound isn’t pleasant. We all want her to make it, the little trailer park wench that could, mentally leaning forward the way a bowler will try to pull the ball from the gutter’s edge by twisting his body.

If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you, she cops out, finally.

You know how long it takes a actor to become persona non grata to the rest of the cast? The length of time it takes to say, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

Ultimately, they both resigned from the film, much to the relief of the rest of us. Even the big, positive guy on the crew who always has a smile and never has an unkind word to say, is glad they’re gone.

Now, we can begin the real work…

Movie Diaries 3

May 3, 2005

The Oirish Witches

My friend Donal, a native Dubliner with a gregarious (sometime annoyingly so) personality and a great love for things technical has a phrase he uses to describe Americans who try to act Irish: “Irish with an ‘O’.” It refers to the awkward, Hollywood pronouciation of the long “I” sound, “oi”, and the fact that most Americans pronounce it wrong, and really have no idea what Irish really means. I’m proud to say that he told me one that I was one of the few Americans he’s met that “get it”: I don’t wear green to celebrate my irish-ness, I don’t wear a kilt on St. Patrick’s day, and I never, ever mention leprechauns in conversation.

This is all just exposition…

Written into the plot of the movie were two female characters, both Irish, one a born mage and the other a technical mage. It doesn’t matter which was which since, as annoyances go, they were pretty much interchangeable. And while it is admittedly unfair to judge someone by appearances alone, you couldn’t help but join the looks to the personalities and say to yourself, “Ah. No wonder.”

We’ll call them W1 and W2.

Forty-ish, W1 had that underfed, over-mascara’d look that is all the vogue in trailer parks all over our nation. Tight jeans, sweatshirt over a close fitting T, black beret with the little string-y thing on top, and platinum blonde hair with dark roots. She spoke little to the other members of the cast except to condescend. She had eyes only for PD.

W2 is harder to quantify and the subject of today’s story (W1 gets her own, later). An uneasy mixture of Margaret Hamilton, Billy Burke (15 years after the bubble ascended out of the Emerald City), and the Mayor of Munchkin City. Electric red hair, maybe not pushing 60 but definitely pulling 45 with a really long rope, short-ish. She was also obsessed with Leprechauns, which is the worst Oirish bit of BS as far as native Dubliners are concerned.

The real danger was this. When she spoke it was always at nearly ninety decibels, and she needed only one inducement to speak: someone within range, listening or not.

I engaged her in conversation the evening we met, because she seemed like an interesting person, and because I didn’t know about all the rest. The subject of coffee came up, and she name-dropped Bewleys. The one on Grafton Street, or St. Christophers? I asked, feeling her out to see if she really knew what she was talking about. (There is no St. Christophers that I’m aware of in Dublin) Ohhhh, she said in a singsongy “Oirish” tone, the two story one there on Grafton Street. Earned some points there – that’s the place. They’re closing it, I told her, Starbucks has come to the British Isles. We talked about that for a while.

What I hadn’t seen before this was Murphy’s look of warning: Bill, do not engage! Do you read me? Do not engage!

You see, once started, a conversation with her became this unbelievably large gelatinous cube, sliding unstoppably along, unheeding and unfeeling of the creatures being crushed under the onslaught and dying in the stickiness of it. Several times I tried to extract myself from the conversation, but the tendrils of – no, not conversation exactly, since by definition a conversation requires the participation of more than one individual, which in her case is entirely unecessary – talk, then, would extend outward, grab me by the ears and drag me back in.

Thank God PD intervened with some questions for me. I stood, held my finger in front of her nose in a “hold on” gesture, and excused myself. What I remember seeing was the electricity switched off on an automaton: the tape ran down, the sound faded and died away, the eyes unfocused and the light went out, the machinery returned to center.

Waiting for the next Tarantella Dancer to begin the music, no doubt.